The Canadian party system is a deviant case among the Anglo-American democracies. It has too many parties, it is susceptible to staggering swings from election to election, and its provincial and federal branches often seem unrelated. Unruly and inscrutable, it is a system that defies logic and classification – until now.
In this political science tour de force, Richard Johnston makes sense of the Canadian party system. With a keen eye for history and deft use of recently developed analytic tools, he articulates a series of propositions underpinning the system. Chief among them was domination by the centrist Liberals, stemming from their grip on Quebec, which blocked both the Conservatives and the NDP. As Johnston shows, the Conservative Party could win only with short-lived coalitions of francophobes and nationalist francophones, often built by soaking up populist tension. Moving beyond the national realm, he also takes a close look at the stunning discontinuity between federal and provincial arenas, another peculiarity of the Canadian system.
For its combination of historical breadth and data-intensive rigour, The Canadian Party System is a rare achievement. Its findings shed light on the main puzzles of the Canadian case, while contesting the received wisdom of the comparative study of parties, elections, and electoral systems elsewhere.